On Gwen Stefani Playing the Grand Ole Opry w/ Blake Shelton

Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood will be taking the Grand Ole Opry stage this Saturday, May 2nd, as part of the country music institution’s continued commitment to keeping the “Circle Unbroken” throughout the unprecedented Coronavirus shutdown. With no audience or backing band, and a special exception from the Nashville mayor, the Opry has continued its Saturday night tradition with many memorable performances by some major names in the industry, though arguably none more bigger than Garth who was inducted as an Opry member in 1990. Wife Trisha Yearwood was inducted in 1999.

But what has a lot of people talking is that next Saturday, May 9th, the featured performers will be Dustin Lynch, Trace Adkins (making his 2nd quarantine appearance), and Blake Shelton. And accompanying Shelton will be his love interest and recent #1 song duet partner, international pop star Gwen Stefani. It will be Gwen’s official debut on the Opry’s hallowed stage.

Quite a few country fans were left angered and agog when they saw that a pop performer would be receiving an Opry berth when many more deserving country artists—including some who could benefit from both performing during this period of hardship—are once again being passed over, especially with so much interest flowing to these pandemic Opry performances. When you see artists like Luke Combs, Garth Brooks, and Blake Shelton signing up to play for scale, you know these performances have become something truly special.

Unquestionably, the default opinion of any Grand Ole Opry lover should be that entertainers who have pledged their allegiance to country music should receive first priority on the Opry stage over outliers and interlopers, especially when it comes to making debuts, which is a rite of passage and a dream come true for country performers.

Just as important to point out is Blake Shelton’s unenviable list of offenses towards country music over the years, and far beyond his “Old Farts and Jackasses” comments that now feel like a distant memory, yet including his reputation as the Grand Ole Opry’s most consistent deadbeat member, regularly shirking his performance responsibilities to the institution that in previous eras would have had you removed from the membership ranks.

But let’s not be unreasonable or emotional here. First, Blake Shelton playing the Grand Ole Opry is a good thing. It’s what we’ve been demanding of him if he wants to retain the recognition of being called a proper Opry member. And making an appearance during this high-profile time will be especially profitable for the Opry, and specifically for the charities which these broadcasts are aiming to draw donations for.

Now on multiple of these Coronavirus shows we’ve seen couples performing together, including Vince Gill and Amy Grant, and this week, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood. Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani have been quarantining together. It only makes sense they take the stage to perform during these unprecedented times in line with quarantine protocol.

Let’s not be unreasonable here. Do I like the idea of Gwen Stefani playing the Grand Ole Opry? No, I do not. Are there better and more deserving artists? Of course there are. But in these unusual times, let’s not be the party responsible for petty grievances over mild concerns. Remember when The Byrds got booed off the Opry stage, or Bob Wills brought drums? Amy Grant and Jason Crabb weren’t country performers either, but were invited to the Opry stage during these special performances to widen the appeal and impact of these moments.

If these were normal circumstances, Gwen Stefani would probably be making a Opry appearance at some point anyway on a given Friday or Saturday night, and most people probably wouldn’t even take notice. As unfortunate as it may be, these pop/country collaborations on the Opry are common. Also, Gwen was not announced as a primary performer on the May 9th Opry presentation, just a guest. With three others performers scheduled, she’ll sing a song with Shelton, maybe two, and that’s it. Frankly, Dustin Lynch playing the same week (and inexplicably being invited to become an Opry member) is way more troubling.

So let’s be the bigger people here. And despite what some may think about Gwen Stefani, she will undoubtedly draw many eyeballs and attention to a good cause. And hopefully she approaches the honor with reverence and respect. Let’s bite our tongues for a more appropriate moment to rage against the incursion of pop into country, and see the bigger picture during this unprecedented time. Because the Grand Ole Opry as an entertainment institution is ultimately for everyone.

As things begin to open up in the United States, there may only be a finite amount of these special live streamed Opry performances left before crowds start to return in limited capacity, and the Opry ceases its live streaming broadcasts. But we’ll all look back at these Opry moments and remember these times for the weight they carried. The acrimony and infighting in country can be left for another more appropriate time. Most everyone’s hurting, no matter what kind of music they listen to. So let’s try to use music to come together.

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